Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis
) is a type of blue-green algae harvested from lakes and oceans or grown in controlled ponds and tanks. It contains a variety of vitamins and nutrients and is often taken as a nutritional supplement. It's also a strong antioxidant. Compounds isolated from spirulina inhibit the replication of HIV in test-tube studies and are effective against viruses such as herpes as well. Studies conducted in animals also suggest that spirulina may stimulate the immune system, although some herbalists believe that this ability could actually increase the production of virus. This may be less of a concern for those on effective antiretroviral therapy. Although spirulina is probably the most studied of the blue-green algae, other algae produce antiviral compounds. Spirulina may have a detrimental effect on the body's ability to produce vitamin B12. As a result, one of these other algae may eventually prove to be a more appropriate treatment for HIV-positive people. Some species of algae may be toxic, however. In general, algae are very susceptible to environmental contamination and are often deliberately used to soak up toxic substances. Given these concerns, there is currently no consensus among herbalists about whether the use of blue-green algae supplements is appropriate for people living with HIV.
If you're taking algae simply for their nutritional benefits, an approach like juicing, which is described in CATIE's Practical Guide to Complementary Therapies, may be a better option.
Algae are available in powder, capsule or liquid form and can be purchased at health food stores and through buyers' clubs. Powders are generally the least expensive option. To avoid environmental contamination, buy a brand that is well-known and that has gone through the most extensive quality control process possible. Side effects are uncommon even with regular use, but rashes and nausea, possibly due to environmental toxins, have occasionally been reported.